When Picasso and his brother Pablo showed up at a high-kill shelter in Southern California, their intake photos were memorable. The two pit bull/Chihuahua mixes were obviously bonded, but Picasso was especially compelling. His facial deformities made him look like something out of one of the famous surrealist’s paintings.

Knowing the two dogs were on the shelter's "death row," Liesl Wilhardt, founder of Luvable Dog Rescue in Eugene, Oregon, scooped them up and brought them to her foster home. The two dogs were inseparable. They likely had been dumped by someone who no longer wanted them, and were left wandering the streets together for a long time, forced to fend for themselves.

"I introduced him to my nine rescued dogs and his 'tough guy' attitude had vanished," Wilhardt says. Now that they were safe, Picasso still protected his brother and gave him courage, keeping most other dogs away.

Hoping to find the pups permanent homes, Wilhardt posted videos of the dogs online. Picasso became a social media superstar. His face sparked comments from around the world from people thankful that he'd been rescued and from those who identified with his special looks, particularly those in the military who had suffered disfiguring injuries, and parents of children who look a little different.

A new chapter

But not long after the two dogs came to her home, Wilhardt lost her dog, a hairless French bulldog named Pika, to liver cancer. She was devastated. Then, on a morning walk, Pablo collapsed from a brain aneurysm. Having lost their two closest friends, Wilhardt and Picasso found solace in one other.

"He had lost his brother but found his family!" Wilhardt says.

Picasso is now a permanent member of Wilhardt's pack and is in training to be a therapy dog for people and for other dogs.

Wilhardt says the facial deformity doesn't hurt the dog and doesn't affect his ability to eat or chew. In fact, his unusual face has proven to be an asset; not only do people gravitate toward him, but Picasso also has the ability to help shy dogs and puppies learn social skills, Wilhardt says.

"He really does touch people, especially those who look a little different like him," she told The Register-Guard. "Whether they were born different or had an illness or accident that led them to looking different, he’s helped and inspired so many people."

Thank you @kelly_beal_photography 💙for this very dashing portrait of me!!! 💙love, picasso

A post shared by Picasso (@picassothewonkyfaceddog) on

Picasso was honored in early March with an Oregon Humane Society Diamond Collar Hero Award. The awards "recognize and honor animals who have acted to save a human or animal life in peril, performed services within the community with undying loyalty, or overcome incredible odds in order to survive."

Here's a video describing all he's overcome.

And that's just the beginning. Picasso is currently up for an American Humane Hero Dog Award. In the meantime, he'll continue to spread goodwill and inspiration on his popular Instagram account as he works towards his therapy certification.

"Picasso’s personality and temperament is just loving and accepting to all living things, despite what he’s suffered in the past," Wilhardt said.

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Mary Jo DiLonardo writes about everything from health to parenting — and anything that helps explain why her dog does what he does.